The city of Spokane’s Native American population is rapidly growing, and its needs remain serious.
To mark Indigenous Peoples Day, the Spokane City Council received an address Monday from Toni Lodge, who is CEO of the Native Project and a leader of the Native American Alliance for Policy and Action.
Lodge outlined the myriad disparities the city’s growing Native population is forced to overcome and called for concrete changes to help address them. She described a people “interwoven into the fabric of the Spokane community.”
Spokane has the eighth-largest urban Indian population in the United States, Lodge said, and it is rapidly growing. Between the 2010 and 2020 U.S. Census, the city’s Native community has grown by about 10,000 people, now reaching about 25,000 in total.
Lodge believes that figure is still actually an undercount, as many who could have participated did not due to the pandemic. And while white people still represent the majority of the city’s population, other demographics have grown.
“This also sets the stage for change in the future,” Lodge said.
The average life expectancy for a Native American person is 63 years, compared to 74 years for a Caucasian person, Lodge noted, citing Spokane Regional Health District data.
“That is a health disparity right there and we need to plan to make us more equal,” Lodge said.
The Native Project spearheaded vaccination distribution efforts not just for the members of hundreds of Native tribes that live in Spokane, but other members of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color community.
“Realizing that we are in this together, we had to save each other’s lives,” Lodge said.
Lodge called for the city to invest in culturally specific behavioral health programs for adults in the Native American community. One consequence of the absence of such programs, she argued, is that 25% of Spokane children in the Department of Children, Youth and Families’ care are Native American.
“This absence keeps us in jail instead of treatment programs,” Lodge said.
Lodge said that homelessness and a lack of affordable housing are endemic issues in the Native American community, as they are for others in Spokane.
The Native American community has largely been cut out from funding sources like the American Rescue Plan, despite disproportionately suffering from the ill effects of the pandemic, Lodge argued. She suggested the city invest American Rescue Plan funding in youth, disease prevention, and preservation of culture.
She also called for culturally specific after-school programs and increased access to Wi-Fi and digital hardware for young people.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton read a proclamation Monday honoring Indigenous Peoples Day.
Stratton also read the land acknowledgment adopted by the Spokane City Council earlier this year, which recognizes that the land now called Spokane is the unceded land of the Spokane people.
“As we take a moment to consider the impacts of colonization may we also acknowledge the strengths and resiliency of the Spokanes and their relatives,” the resolution states. “As we work together making decisions that benefit all, may we do so as one heart, one mind, and one spirit.”
The speech was the first of its kind presented to the City Council by a representative from the Urban Indian community.
“We’ve been here forever and plan to stay,” Lodge said.
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